While I’m still traveling, I’m happy to share with you an essay from student Camryn Zeller.~ Sarah
This year, I had the privilege to attend Acton University as a part of my Hope College summer research experience. I knew from talking to past Hope students and faculty about the joys of Acton University that the week of thought-provoking, lectures, fruitful discussion, and delicious food would both challenge and encourage my thoughts about human flourishing, its purpose, and how we as a society support the flourishing of all. However, after a couple weeks of reflection and the continuation of conversations with my peers who also attended Acton U, I realized that I walked away from the week with much more than an expansion of my thoughts on these issues. My week at Acton provided me with a direction for research, a reassurance of my role as a Christian, and a reminder of Who has been, is, and always will be at the center of it all.
One of the best decisions I made during Acton University this year was to attend Dr. David Deavel’s class on Solzhenitsyn’s view of freedom and the responsibilities that accompany it. This class was particularly interesting to me because one of my professors at Hope College, Professor Sarah Estelle, has encouraged my peers and me to read Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to learn more about the tragedy and suffering millions of people endured as a result of Communism. Up until that point, I had never taken her advice and thought that this class would expose me to the perspective that my professor wanted me to explore. Professor Deavel’s class, though, ended up being one of my favorites of the whole week.
Solzhenitsyn’s critique of both the ideology of the East and the ideology of the West articulated the problems that I see in society today. Since taking this class, I have decided to shift my research for the summer to build from Solzhenitsyn’s philosophy and relate his critiques of society to the issues of consumerism in our world today. Professor Estelle will be happy to know that in the two weeks since Acton, I have read many of Solzhenitsyn’s speeches, novellas, and poems and continually wonder why I had not heeded her advice earlier.
Though the first day of Acton University was full of great discussion and fun, I was feeling a little uncomfortable and lost trying to understand my role as a Christian at this conference and how the lessons I learned would fit into God’s plan to further His kingdom. I have been to many conferences in the past, but for some reason, on this particular day, I was having trouble realizing the value of talking about ideas; I had convinced myself that the only true value lies in action.
The next day, however, Dr. Scott Rae from Biola University reminded me of a truth I had completely forgotten in his talk “Theology and Work.” Dr. Rae emphasized the importance of recognizing the call of Christians to participate in full-time ministry in whatever vocation they are called into. He encouraged us to use language such as “pastoral-ministry” to describe those who work in missions or churches instead of “full-time ministry” because all Christians are called to full-time ministry! This reminder from Dr. Rae reassured me that in whatever space I am called to serve, I will always have the responsibility to live like Christ lived and minister in love to all the people I encounter. This can look like sharing ideas with others or taking the action implementing those ideas requires.
Throughout the lectures, dinners, and overall messaging of Acton University, the attendees were constantly reminded of Acton’s overall mission: to connect good intentions with sound economics. This concept was consistently summed up in what I would have guessed was the word of the week: flourishing. Each speaker, no matter the religious background, discipline, or lecture topic always came back to the same idea of trying to perpetuate human flourishing for all in a broken world. While human flourishing is important to pursue, each of these mentions came with an important reminder: flourishing is not the ultimate end or good, God is. It is really easy to get caught up in the pursuit of flourishing for all that it is easy to forget Who should actually be at the center of all of our actions and desires. Flourishing is good because God is good. Acton University reminded me that the Lord is the only source of true happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment, and flourishing of the whole person must depend first on a right relationship with the Creator of all things along with stable physical and mental well-being.
Overall, my week at Acton University was a blast. I got to meet and share meals with people from all over the world, learn from experts in their field and spend extensive amounts of time with them after their lectures (4+ hours with Fr. Gregory Jensen), and spend quality time with some professors and students from my college in an environment unlike any we had experienced together. I am excited to continue conversations with my new friends at Hope, the professors I got to know, and anyone else who is willing to listen and share ideas!
Camryn Zeller is a junior economics major at Hope College and member of Markets & Morality. She is involved in research with faculty and many programs of Hope’s Campus Ministries.
As a long-standing supporter of the Acton Institute, my heart was warmed by your beautiful essay. Thank you!
Thanks for your kind words about my session on Theology of Work ar Acton, much appreciated!